St. Charles East waited nearly 20 years to get back to state, so what's one more hour?
The Saints' Class 4A supersectional Monday at The Ballpark in Rosemont started about an hour late after Downers Grove South got caught in a traffic jam on I-294 caused by an accident near the Balmoral Road exit.
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St. Charles East stayed loose during the delay, then got back to business. The Saints scored four runs in the third inning and stayed ahead the rest of the way, beating the Mustangs 6-3 to advance to the Class 4A state semifinals Friday in East Peoria.
In qualifying for state for just the second time -- the first since 1994 -- this year's team already has made it farther than any in school history by being one of the final four teams standing. St. Charles East (30-5) will play Barrington (35-1), an 8-3 winner over Warren, at 3 p.m. Friday at the EastSide Centre in East Peoria.
"It's a dream," center fielder Tess Hupe said. "At the beginning of the season we sat in our team room and made the goal that we would win the sectional championship on our field and make it to supersectionals and we did that and now we are making it even farther. It's just really cool we could all do this together."
The Saints didn't play their cleanest game Monday on the FieldTurf, committing 4 errors including a pair to keep the Mustangs (22-11) alive in the seventh inning. Those two errors and a walk brought a run in and the tying run to the plate with two outs, and that batter was the one with the most power in Downers South's lineup, shortstop Jessica Andree who had homered in the sectional final.
This time, winning pitcher Haley Beno (21-3) got Andree to hit a routine fly to right field. When the ball settled in Olivia Lorenzini's mitt, the Saints started another wild celebration that has become quite a familiar scene the last couple weeks.
"I'm very excited," freshman left fielder Katie Kolb said. "I honestly truly believed we could do it, and I honestly truly believed we wanted it more than anyone."
When the game finally got going after the long delay, Beno and the Mustangs' Caroline Hedgcock matched 2 scoreless innings.
Hupe ignited a 4-run third by bunting for a hit. She took second when Lorenzini reached on an error and third on a groundout.
Kolb beat out a chopper to second base that plated Hupe, and Kate Peterburs stayed hot by blasting a ball over the center fielder's head for a 2-run triple and 3-0 lead.
"She's on fire," Saints coach Kelly Horan said. "She has a good attack at the plate. That's the key to our hitting. When we are disciplined and swinging at strikes we're a real good offensive team."
Sarah Collalti capped the inning with a sharp single to left to score Peterburs for a 4-0 lead. All four runs were unearned.
In the third, fourth and fifth innings the Mustangs were their own worst enemy trying to get back in the game. They could have had runners at first and third with one out in the third but the runner going to third overslide the bag.
"We played Leyden here, we knew when you slide it's a slip and slide almost," Downers South coach Ron Havelka said of playing on the turf. "She would have been safe too."
The Mustangs put a runner third with less than two outs in the next two innings and didn't score either time as Beno made the pitches she needed to at key times.
"She was into it from the first pitch," Horan said. "It seems the tougher the situation we got ourselves into the stronger she was. That was pretty awesome."
Hupe also came up with a key play defensively from center field when she threw to shortstop Lexi Perez to nail a runner going to second.
"I know Lexi was calling for the ball, she always knows what to do, she's a great leader on the field," Hupe said. "I cut the ball off and gunned it right to her and she put a perfect tag on it."
Downers South finally got on the board in the sixth on a pair of RBI groundouts from Caitlyn Daily and Hedgcock after Melissa Orton walked and Andree doubled.
That cut the Saints' lead to 4-2 going into the seventh, and St. Charles East knew it needed more.
"They came back and beat Naperville Central from being down 6-0 so I knew I had to had to help my team a little bit more," Kolb said. "We knew they were going to come back. We knew they had some good hitters. We needed some insurance runs."
Kolb made sure the Saints got them, ripping a 2-run single up the middle to cap her 3-for-4, 3-RBI day. Hupe and Collalti both added 2 hits.
"I've been in a slump lately but my team is always there supporting me," Kolb said. "I'm very lucky to have the team I have."
The Saints got the seventh-inning rally going in typical fashion for them, loading the bases without hitting a ball out of the infield. Perez was hit by a pitch, Hupe reached when the Mustangs bobbled her bunt, and Lorenzini bunted for a hit.
To say that speed formula is working pretty well is an understatement considering just how hot the Saints are. Since starting the season 3-3, the Saints have won 27 of their last 29 games -- 27-0 against teams not named St. Charles North.
"It's pretty unbelievable," Horan said. "I try to tell the kids I played softball in college and obviously in high school but the one thing I really enjoy is being able to go back to my high school (Glenbard West) and looking at our third in state basketball trophy (1999). And basketball wasn't my thing. But it is cool to come back and see my name on that trophy. That's tangible, and now these kids have it. They are going to come home with a trophy and their name is forever going to be in the history at St. Charles East and I'm super proud and super excited for them."
The Mustangs enjoyed a memorable postseason that included knocking off No. 1 seed Naperville Central on its way to an unlikely sectional title as a No. 9 seed.
"It was a hard-fought game," Havelka said. "Even toward the end we were battling. We are young. It was a great run. We knocked off some pretty good people. St. Charles East is a good team. I wish them well."